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Boys & Girls Club's loss is USF St. Pete's gain as conservatory leader moves

Sometimes change can be hard. But in the case of a few changes at the Boys & Girls Club of the Suncoast, which is housed at the Royal Theater in Midtown, it could be a win-win for all parties: students, artists and two local colleges.

In recent months, there has been an exodus of key leaders at the Boys & Girls Club.

The director, Herbert A. Murphy, departed for Washington, D.C., this year. Alex Harris, the artist-in-residence there, left a week ago.

Harris, who led much of the programming at the Royal Theater's Senior Conservatory, is now teaching a class at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

For months, there had been whispers about changes to programming at the facility. Those changes were brought about in part because the Juvenile Welfare Board no longer funds programs for youth older than 14.

The Boys & Girls clubs receive a lot of funding from the JWB. But since the Royal Theater's conservatory program targets young people between 13 and 18 years old, money from the JWB was no longer on the table.

Funding from the JWB also comes with a new guideline.

"To continue to receive funding (from the JWB), our program has to be licensed," said Nita Smith, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of the Suncoast. "We're in the process of doing that."

The Senior Conservatory, which has been a popular part of the Royal Theater, is a community-based program that seeks to instill self-discipline and excellence not only in the arts but in everyday living. Classes include drama, dance, music development, mime, graphic arts, recording arts production and poetry. The learning center focuses on tutoring and providing homework help.

The conservatory and the artist-in-residence program were the brainchild of Carl Lavender, the former CEO of Boys & Girls Club, who departed in 2011.

The leaders at the Boys & Girls Club say they are committed to continuing the program, but losing Harris will be a huge loss for the Royal Theater. He intends to move the Senior Conservatory's programming to Harbor Hall at USF St. Petersburg.

No one could be more pleased than Frank Biafora, dean of the arts and science department.

"We're bringing a higher education institution to be more involved in Midtown," he said.

"It is a perfect match for his (Harris') background in arts and theology," he said. "He's a remarkable young man."

Adding Harris to the staff bodes well for USFSP's long-term goal of expanding its theater program.

"We're building a theater in Harbor Hall (former home of the Salvador Dalí Museum). It should be up and running by spring break," Biafora said.

In this instance, the Boys & Girls Club's loss is USFSP's gain. For residents unfamiliar with the talent and programming at the Senior Conservatory, you're in for a treat.

A year ago when the host of NBC's America's Got Talent came to town, it was to honor a student in that program.

So now, a very happy Harris takes his energy and vision to USFSP. The move also brings a host of talented youths to downtown St. Petersburg.

"Oh, yeah. I'm so excited about it," said Harris. In addition to teaching an arts and culture class, he will work with the university's internship program, which will work with students from Midtown and other communities. That program has been up and running since the spring semester.

But leaders at the Boys & Girls Club intend to regroup and revamp the programming for younger students.

"We need to continue the strong tradition of the Royal Theater," said Smith.

"We're just trying to find someone who can help us do that. We're also trying to strengthen our partnership with St. Pete College."

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8874 or on Twitter at @StPeteSandi.

Boys & Girls Club's loss is USF St. Pete's gain as conservatory leader moves 09/08/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 8, 2012 4:31am]
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